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Old Cable Shorts Out Judge’s Web Plans

Tue., Nov. 11, 1997

In the end, word of Judge Hiller Zobel’s decision Monday to reduce the second-degree murder conviction of Louise Woodward filtered out of the Cambridge courthouse the old-fashioned way: it was leaked by attorneys to reporters.

The judge’s grand plan to release his decision to the masses via the Internet was waylaid by the shorting of an aging electric cable beneath rain-soaked Beacon Street in Brookline, just outside Boston.

The loss of power to a two-block area shut down the computers at a private Internet service provider that was to serve as a conduit between the court and the 30 World Wide Web sites selected to carry the decision.

Despite the problems in relaying the decision, the interest in obtaining it via the Internet was overwhelming. Many Web sites carrying the verdict reported an incredible surge in usage, receiving 10 to 20 times the normal number of users as millions tried to get the information.

The glitch was an extraordinary case of bad timing. The private company said it lost power at almost the exact minute a court official was attempting to send along the judge’s decision to the Web sites.

Across the world, frustrated computer users alerted to the fact the judge’s decision would be released at 10 a.m. EST were forced to huddle around television sets with co-workers and family members to get the first word on the au pair’s fate.

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